No cookbook, I’m doing this one from memory.
One season of work is coming to a close, with a month to go before the next one. I’ve been looking forward to days of reading, writing, cooking, and yard work at home. The weather encourages me. Yesterday, gray sky, temperatures in the 60s, and the hint of rain in the air sent me to curl up on the couch with books, laptop, dogs on nearby dogbeds, and Mozart’s piano sonate swirling around the house.
I didn’t plan to spend much of the day cooking. Somehow, though, I wound up making a batch of granola for two week’s worth of breakfasts and a sheet of spelt cracker to nibble on for two day’s worth of lunches. In for a penny, in for a pound. I decided to make fresh pasta for dinner. In anticipation of a nice pasta with salad, I removed from the freezer one of my little tubs of fresh tomato sauce I made over the summer.
Fresh pasta is one of those elements of a solitary meal that is too good to forego because of the effort. After long practice, I can now make one serving of pasta for myself in about 20 minutes, which suits quick sauces and sauces that simmer for a while. Every time I make pasta, I learn a little bit more about how it should feel in my hand as I knead it.
And here’s something to note: I got rid of my pasta machine long ago. One of Marcella’s books first alerted me to the problem of using a machine. Something about rolling the dough between the two metal cylinders toughens the surface of the dough so that the noodles do not absorb the sauces. They tend to slide right off them. In fact, once I got rid of the pasta machine and learned how to roll out a small sheet of dough quickly, I found I made pasta more often. Even though there’s probably not a great difference in effort, I’m more likely to make pasta if I don’t have to drag out the pasta machine and attach it to the counter.
So, to make the pasta…
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 large egg
tiny pinch of salt
I put flour, egg, and salt in a little bowl and stir with a fork until the dough that forms makes it too difficult to continue. After dusting the work surface with flour, I transfer the shaggy ball of dough to the floured surface and begin to knead it. Everyone finds their own way to work the dough, but I find alternating between squeezing the dough with my fingers and pressing down my palm on the ball works best for me. I work the dough with one hand and hold a pastry scraper in the other to scrap up bits and also the dough, if it’s too sticky.
I usually knead the dough for 5 to 10 mins. When the ball of dough is smooth, I let it rest on the work surface for a minute, while I lay a few sheets of paper towel out on another counter. Then I take the wooden dowell I use for rolling dough out and press down on the ball. Pasta dough is more elastic than pie dough. Ideally, I should be able to roll out the pasta dough without additional flour on the work surface, but sometimes that doesn’t happen. The pasta dough should not stick to the surface. Once I’ve rolled it out thin enough to let light come through, I use a knife to cut it into strips. I transfer the strips to the paper towels to let them dry a bit. It’s important that the noodles not touch each other. If I’m not going to cook them soon, I may sprinkle a little cornmeal over the noodles.
And then the sauce…
1/2 – 1 cup tomato sauce, preferably fresh
2 Tblsp olive oil
pinch of red pepper flakes
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 anchovy fillets
1/2 tsp kosher salt
parmegiano reggiano cheese, freshly grated
Heat the olive oil in a skillet. Add the pepper flakes, garlic, and anchovies. Sauté gently until the anchovies dissolve in the oil. Be careful not to burn the garlic. At this point, start the water for the pasta. Add the tomato sauce and salt. If the tomato sauce is watery — as my summer batch was — simmer the sauce until reduced to desired consistency.
Meanwhile cook the pasta. The fresher the pasta is, the shorter the cooking time. Taste it after a minute and a half. Drain, pour into a warmed bowl, pour the sauce over it and sprinkle with parsley and cheese. Take it to the table, pour a glass of wine, put on music of your choice, remember to turn off the kitchen light, open your book or magazine, and savor the meal.
Once you can make the pasta quickly and well, it’s time to play. Add a couple of extra yolks and be prepared to add more flour as you work the dough. Substitute a portion of the flour with semolina. It changes the texture, makes it a little rougher and chewier. Try making a batch of pasta with semolina entirely, an egg, and a couple of extra yolks. Then you’re making pasta like they do in the Emilia-Romagna, the only region where Marcella would eat fresh pasta in a restaurant.